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Up to this point in our series on teaching your child to read, we have been talking about informal play activities. Once your child can read several dozen words from those activities, it’s time to start actual reading lessons. Charlotte advocated starting when the child was six years old but acknowledged that each child is unique. The key is not to hurry. Don’t push. Relax. Take your time. Wait until your child is ready. (Does this sound familiar?)
These reading lessons will also work well if you have been using a different reading curriculum and have gotten your child to a point where he can read short words and sentences but is having trouble making the transition to reading in a book.
Charlotte Mason-style reading lessons use two approaches: sight words and word-building.
Definitely, what is it we propose in teaching a child to read? (a) that he shall know at sight, say, some thousand words; (b) That he shall be able to build up new words with the elements of these. Let him learn ten new words a day, and in twenty weeks he will be to some extent able to read, without any question as to the number of letters in a word. For the second, and less important, part of our task, the child must know the sounds of the letters, and acquire power to throw given sounds into new combinations (Home Education, pp. 215, 216).
So Charlotte alternated her reading lessons to focus on sight words one day, word-building the next. Today we’ll explain how to do the sight-words lessons.
Preparation for the Reading Lesson
Choose a good classic children’s poem or other rich reading selection with interesting words. Charlotte gave several good examples. One was the poem “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” so we’ll use that for our description here.
You’ll need three basic manipulatives for the lessons:
- Loose letters that your child can use to put together the words he learns,
- A page with your reading selection printed on it,
- The words of your reading selection cut apart, one word per strip of paper.
You’ll also want a chalkboard or white board.
Focus on one or two lines of your poem at a time in order to keep the reading lessons short: 10–15 minutes maximum. Grab the word strips for the first line (“twinkle, twinkle, little star”) and follow these steps.
- Show your child a word strip and tell him what that word is. Remember to introduce the words in a different order than they appear in the poem’s line, for example, “star” then “twinkle” then “little.”
- Have your child look closely at the word. Discuss what it means, if needed. Then hide it among the other word strips and have your child find it.
- Hide the word again and ask your child if he can make the word with his loose letters. If he cannot make the word from memory, write it on the board and let him look at it again while he puts the letters in place. You don’t want him to guess at the spelling; you want him to see the word spelled correctly as much as possible.
- Have your child find the word on a printed page—the one containing the poem or prose that you are using for your lessons.
- Write the word on the board, creating a list of words he has learned. Each time you add a word, have him read the whole list. Be sure to vary the order of the words as you progress; point to them in different orders for him to read aloud. You don’t want him to just memorize the list in order; you want him to recognize each word as he would the familiar face of a friend.
- Repeat with the other words in the line of the poem or until the lesson reaches 10 or 15 minutes long.
- Once he has learned all the words, have him read aloud the printed line of the poem on the sheet of paper. You can also call out the words in turn and have him arrange his word strips in order, then read off the line.
After your child has learned several sight words, encourage him to create some new sentences using those words. This is another activity that works well with the word strips. Let your child arrange them in various orders as he composes his original sentences and reads them aloud. You can include words from previous lessons, too, as you progress.
At this point your child will have learned the words to the line of the poem that you taught. He may be expecting to learn the second line tomorrow, but you want to mix things up to keep it interesting.
The more variety you can throw into his reading lessons, the more will the child enjoy them (Home Education, p. 204).
One way to add variety and interest, and the next step, is to include word-building lessons as you go along. Next week we’ll explain exactly how to do word building.
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